Orders of the Day — Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:49 pm on 28th June 2005.

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Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley North and Sefton East 5:49 pm, 28th June 2005

No, I said that would give way only once.

The issue of which freedom is being taken away from whom has not been properly addressed so far, and I have yet to understand it fully myself. The issue would be more clear-cut if from the outset it was made explicit that the scheme should be compulsory. In those circumstances, the arguments about whether someone who had to apply for a passport would face a requirement not faced by people who chose not to have passports—essentially, those arguments are about the fair treatment of different individuals—would not arise. Nevertheless, for understandable reasons, the Government have decided to do it this way, and I am prepared to accept the principle behind what they are trying to achieve.

Three issues need to be addressed as the legislation progresses. Rather than deal with them exhaustively, I shall be brief. First, the issue of cost has been repeatedly raised. It is crucial to maintain the high level of public support for the principle of ID cards. If costs at the end of the process are too high, the value of having an identity card system would have to be demonstrated or it would rapidly become unpopular and lose the public support required for its introduction. Secondly, people must be satisfied about security and the safeguards in place to protect information held on the central register. They have legitimate concerns about who will have access to sensitive information about them and for what purpose. We have not satisfied that concern entirely. Perhaps the Information Commissioner went further than he should have done, but his intervention must be addressed. The Government have to do more to convince people that all the necessary safeguards will be put in place so that such a scheme could be used only in appropriate circumstances and for appropriate reasons.

Finally, I have not had the opportunity to examine in detail all the evidence about the accuracy of any given system. If we are going to use biometric measures as the Government propose we must all be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the most accurate recognition possible of biometric data is achievable. I am encouraged by the Cambridge university study that was mentioned but, to be honest, I have not had the opportunity to read it. [Interruption.] Opposition Members seem to think that that is amusing, but they cite studies by various academic bodies with abandon, never having seen them, let alone read them. At least I am honest enough to admit that I have not read that study, and several Opposition Members would have been more honest if they had made such an admission. It is important, however, that that issue is debated thoroughly and that it is demonstrated conclusively that the recognition techniques available are adequate and accurate enough to make the project feasible.

Those are very much issues for the future. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary started to address them today, but we are not there yet. I am happy, however, to give the Bill a Second Reading in its present form. It is necessary that concerns are addressed adequately over the coming weeks and months but, subject to that caveat, I am happy to vote with the Government tonight.

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